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Wyden Calls for Greater Transparency of Presidential Nominee’s Tax Returns
As Prepared for Delivery
I rise today to urge my colleagues to support the Presidential Tax Transparency Act, an amendment to the NDAA I’ve offered along with Senators Warren, Bennet, and Kaine. Here’s what it’s about.
Ever since Watergate, it has become routine for Democratic and Republican presidential nominees to release their tax returns -- standard operating procedure for nearly 40 years.
That’s because the American people expect transparency when it comes to a presidential candidate’s actions and values. They’re running for the highest office in the land. They’re running to be commander in chief of the most powerful nation in the history of the world. And when transparency is the overwhelming expectation of the American public regarding the presidency, it ought to be the law.
Right now, the country is in the midst of a presidential election. The nominating conventions are just weeks away. And one of the candidates, who has become his party’s presumptive nominee, has so far refused to release his tax returns.
This is a clean break from decades of tradition in our elections. It’s a rebuke of the overwhelming majority of Americans – including a majority of Republicans – who are demanding openness and honesty from the candidates on this issue.
Tax returns give a lot of straightforward, honest answers. It’s not just about what rate you pay – Do you even pay taxes? Do you give to charity? Are you abusing loopholes at the expense of middle class taxpayers? Are you keeping your money offshore? Tax returns shine a light on your financial integrity. They show if you try to game the system by having your company pay for personal vacations on a private jet – a trick beyond the reach of most hard working Americans.
Running for president is a job interview. Every candidate has to stand up before the public and show that they’ve got the background, the temperament, and the character to lead the nation and be Commander in Chief. I believe that after decades of tradition, releasing tax returns is a big part of that process.
When it comes to a candidate’s financial background and taxes, I don’t think the public should have to believe the boasting or take somebody’s word for it. They have a right to know the truth.
The amendment my colleagues and I have offered is simple. It says that within 15 days of becoming the nominee at the party conventions, the candidates will be required to release at least three years of tax returns. If either nominee stonewalls the law and refuses, then the Treasury Secretary shares the returns with the FEC, which will make them public online.
When presidents nominate individuals for cabinet seats and executive branch jobs within the jurisdiction of the Finance Committee – the Treasury Secretary, HHS Secretary, Social Security Commissioner, for example – those nominees all submit three years of tax returns for the committee to review. When there’s a need, and when it’s appropriate, information from those returns is made public.
Remember, that’s the standard for people serving under the president. In my view, the commander in chief ought to be required to do better. And the fact is, nominees have traditionally released a lot more than three years, so that should be viewed as a starting point.
To be clear, candidates on both sides, Republicans and Democrats, will be required to meet this new bar. The same rules will apply to all nominees from both parties.
Here’s the bottom line. Ever since Watergate, Americans have made this demand very clear: If you’re a major party’s nominee to be the leader of the free world, you don’t get to hide your tax returns.
So I urge my colleagues on both sides to support the Presidential Tax Transparency Act. And let’s guarantee that Americans get the level of tax transparency they’re demanding from the candidates.
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